In 2015, investigators from The Center for Medical Progress approached Planned Parenthood to purchase fetal remains. Posing as buyers from a human biologics company, the CMP set up meetings over lunch and at Planned Parenthood facilities. The investigators secretly recorded their conversations with Planned Parenthood executives.
The videos, released in a wave to the public shortly after, were groundbreaking. While Planned Parenthood’s abortion business is no secret, the public rarely witnesses the organization’s inner workings. For many, the videos were a shock.
The content is truly gruesome. Most commonly, the discussions centered on Planned Parenthood’s methods of harvesting and selling organs. The casual conversations about trading body parts were enough to cause many viewers discomfort, but some were even more disturbing. In one, investigators were taken back and shown the quality of parts for sale. Fetal brains, hearts, kidneys, eyes, and more were laid out in trays for them to examine and assess. In another, Planned Parenthood employees brought out large containers full of tissue. Throughout this video, the employees dug through the container to show off various tissue specimens, describing body parts, limbs, and more.
As one would expect, these videos caused massive controversy and scandal, and legal backlash as well. Much of Planned Parenthood’s behavior was not only disturbing, but also potentially unlawful.
The Legal Labyrinth of Buying and Selling Fetal Tissue for Profit
In the United States, it is currently unlawful to buy or sell fetal tissue for profit. In fact, it is illegal to sell any human organs for profit. This may seem clear-cut, but in practice, fetal tissue trade is a legal grey area.
While direct payment for fetal tissue is not allowed, “reasonable payments” are permitted to offset the cost of acquisition, transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, and storage of the tissue. Through this loophole, a great many people can get rich from the sale of aborted fetal organs.
For example, procurement technicians are not only paid hourly, but also receive bonuses for each body part they collect during an abortion. This is more than compensation for their time, and the more they collect, the more money they make. Then, companies then charge fees for the transfer of different bits of fetal tissue.
Because there are no official standards for the prices of these organs, companies can demand fees of any size. Many charge hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. Often, the prices appear to be entirely arbitrary. Unless someone explicitly admits to selling organs for profit, there is no legal recourse to prevent such behavior.
Planned Parenthood’s Admission of Buying and Selling Organs
Planned Parenthood is uniquely aware of the gray area in the law, and does its best to operate within it. In the videos recorded, Planned Parenthood’s employees often carefully worded their language to avoid breaking laws. Despite this, much of what was shown in these videos appears to be haggling over trades of fetal body parts for profit.
In one video, a Planned Parenthood official haggled over prices for fetal tissue, saying she wanted a Lamborghini. She also suggested changing how they perform abortions to collect more intact bodies and organs. In another video, director Deborah Nucatola described changes to preserve organs, and how others would even perform partial-birth abortions to obtain intact body parts.
We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that. So I’m not gonna crush that part. I’m going to basically crush below. I’m gonna crush above. And I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.” –Deborah Nucatola, MD, Senior Director of Medical Services, Planned Parenthood Federation of America
These sorts of comments, repeatedly made by multiple members of Planned Parenthood’s senior staff, raise major legal and ethical concerns. Altering procedures and endangering patients for the sake of acquiring more intact and valuable organs is a big part of why such laws were made against organ trade in the first place. The fact that this is happening is an extremely concerning sign of just how rampant this problem may be.
Many other disturbing statements were made by different Planned Parenthood staff in these videos as well. More than one included rather gruesome first hand-looks into their tissue trade and bodies. The way Planned Parenthood employees discussed what they did was stomach turning for some. Indeed, the callousness throughout them left many to wonder if the videos were even real.
Are The Videos Real?
After the release of these videos, many were quick to question whether they were real. The use of stock footage and photos for some audio recordings was used by many to discredit them. Others argued that the videos had been cut or edited.
While the Center for Medical Progress did release short, dramatized videos, this was done to condense dozens of hours of video into a reasonable length. The full footage of the CMP’s videos was made available along with each of the cut versions. These videos provided the context for the recorded conversations and statements, though they were still edited to obscure personal information.
Analysis of the CMP Videos
Planned Parenthood has argued that the CMP’s videos did not present an accurate depiction of events. They claim that they are deceptively edited and that the videos have nothing to do with Planned Parenthood. After the first few videos were released, Planned Parenthood commissioned an analysis to examine them. Analyzing four out of the fourteen videos released, the report has been one of the most widely cited as having proved that the CMP’s videos were faked. In reality, the results of Planned Parenthood’s analysis are far from damning.
Though insisting that the videos did not present an accurate record of events, the analysis found no evidence of video or audio manipulation in any of the recordings. Instead, the report focused on a number of issues that have very little relation to the content central to the recordings. This included cuts during bathroom breaks in the full footage and the use of ‘ominous music’ and other dramatic effects in the shorts.
For the first full-length video, a few minutes of video were cut after a brief exchange that seemed to be about restroom use, resuming when the Planned Parenthood executive returned. In the second video, the only edit noted in the analysis is that video from a second camera appears to have been substituted for certain segments. This may have been done due to the first camera having been blocked or obscured during those moments or to protect people’s identities.
For the third video, there are several cuts to the ‘full footage.’ At one point, the video cuts from the two investigators stopping to eat in the break room to a technician entering to speak with them. The video also cuts after they are shown to a waiting room, resuming when a Planned Parenthood official returns.
Of all the videos, Planned Parenthood’s analysis identifies the fourth video as being the most heavily manipulated. Primarily, when the video was released, about half an hour of video was missing from their first meeting with a Planned Parenthood executive. The discussion cuts off mid-sentence and resumes 28 minutes later. After the report was released, however, this was identified as having been due to an export error, and the CMP uploaded the missing time in a supplemental video.
In short, there is little evidence to argue that these videos are in any way faked. While bathroom breaks and waits seem to have been cut from the full videos, no actual content appears to be missing. No substantive audio or video edits are noted by Planned Parenthood’s analysts either. While the shorts are dramatized and edited for time and emphasis, the context and implications of their statements do not appear to differ significantly from the full-length videos.
Constructing Naratives: Planned Parenthood Admits Under Oath, Denies in Public
In 2023, Planned Parenthood finally admitted in court that individuals in the videos “spoke the words recorded in the videos.” This was a damning admission given their years of denial, but has not helped reverse the narrative they have built.
Though Planned Parenthood might admit to the facts in court to avoid perjury, the story they sell the public often differs wildly. They and media groups repeat claims of deceptive editing and falsification over and over again, even though the content of these videos has never been disproven. Because of this, even with Planned Parenthood’s admission, many publications continue to refer to these videos as having been debunked.
Partner Bioscience Companies Found Guilty of Trading Fetal Remains
While Planned Parenthood and its allies continue to claim these videos are fake publicly, many of its partners have already been brought down thanks to them. In 2017, several bioscience companies were shut down for the illegal sale of fetal body parts. They were found to have profited millions thanks to Planned Parenthood, having sold tissue to academic groups for years before being exposed by the Center for Medical Progress.
Buying and Selling Fetal Tissue is a Common Problem
The Center for Medical Progress’s videos, while perhaps the most damning, are not the first to expose this sort of corruption. In March 2000, ABC News conducted a three-month “20/20” hidden-camera investigation into fetal tissue trafficking. What they found were companies selling organs and fetal tissue for profit. Other companies even encouraged their technicians to collect tissue from mothers who had not consented to tissue donation.
While this might sound awful, it’s really not out of character for abortion providers. The well-being of their patients frequently takes a backseat to profit. Groups like Planned Parenthood have been found to cover up crimes such as sex trafficking to avoid losing business. At times, Planned Parenthood has entirely falsified records to avoid having to report child abuse. Some undercover videos show similar coverups, with Planned Parenthood staff willing to work with traffickers and pimps to perform abortions on their victims.
The FDA’s Participation in Fetal Tissue Trade
While ignoring laws and ethics for the sake of profit isn’t unusual for abortion providers, it’s not just private companies involved in fetal tissue trade. Government bodies often benefit as well. Released documents from the FDA, for instance, show the FDA purchasing fetal tissue. In buying fetal heads, organs, and tissue, the FDA would pay large sums per item above and beyond shipping and transfer costs. Often, these prices were also later jacked up significantly by their suppliers.
In 2019, many of these deals were canceled by the Department of Human Services. These contracts, it was shown, were not at all following procurement laws and were illegal. While this was a step in the right direction, it didn’t last. Instead, the restrictions on government research with fetal tissue were later removed.
As a result, the FDA appears to be significantly expanding its purchase of fetal tissue.
Fetal Tissue Trade is Filled with Abuse
It is not uncommon for businesses to sacrifice legal or moral priorities for financial profit. This does not change when the product is children’s body parts.
The practices of Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics raise big questions regarding the ethics and legality of aborted fetal tissue use. Principles are sacrificed for the sake of profit, and the safety of patients takes a backseat.
Any market that uses human remains must be treated carefully. Regardless of one’s pro-life or pro-choice beliefs, we must all give more attention to the respectful and ethical treatment of fetal organs.
William has worked as a professional writer for pro-life organizations since 2018, including Human Life International, Celebrate Life Magazine, and Pro-Life Utah. He has also written for the Bipartisan Press and edited for several blogs and websites. William is the founder and president of the Lifeguard Initiative, a pro-life group that informs the public, helps pregnant women in need, and works for pro-life legislation in many states.